ECAF project

Sexual Debut in Rabat: New “Arrangements” between the Sexes

Fatima Bakass  By the same author

      Michèle Ferrand  By the same author

Resume

The social and religious order in Morocco is still based on such values as the honour and good name of the family wherein premarital female sexuality is proscribed and an intact hymen is irrefutable evidence of a successful family upbringing. Using data from the 2006-2008 ECAF qualitative survey, this article shows that the combined effects of economic crisis (reducing young men’s access to the labour market and their ability to support a family) and more widespread access to education (particularly for girls) have delayed age at marriage and encouraged the development of premarital sexuality. Unmarried people live out a continual tension between their emotional and sexual aspirations, and the need to observe the social and religious norms that hold extra-marital sexuality to be deviant. As sexual behaviour is increasingly perceived as an individual experience, so each young person engages in a sort of “cultural improvization” made possible because sexual behaviour is not directly observable and social control is weakening amid rapid social change. The practice of non-penetrative sex is an innovative “arrangement” between the genders that enables them to contravene the ban on premarital sexuality and yet comply with the key requirement of female virginity.